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A Professor's Gift

 
  From the left: Lee Eliot Berk, Don Puluse, and Wayne Wadhams in Studio A circa 1985, celebrate the MP&E Department winning its first TEC Award from Mix magazine.

Berklee faculty members give a lot to their students in time, dedication, instruction, advice, and support. In 2008, after Professor Wayne Wadhams-the founder of the college's MP&E Department-passed away, the college learned that he'd given Berklee one last gift: the bulk of his estate valued at close to $1 million.

He didn't specify a use. But after discussion with the executors of his will, the college decided to honor his legacy by creating an endowed fund to create new programs that will enhance the student experience. Dividends from the gift could equal $25,000 to $50,000 per year in perpetuity.

Wadhams brought a broad palette of experiences and interests to his studio work. He was a "brilliant guy," says Carl Beatty, Berklee's chief of staff to the president and a former professor in the MP&E Department. A child prodigy organ player, Wadhams landed a hit with his band the Fifth Estate in 1967 with a cover of "Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead." He later graduated from Dartmouth College. In the 1970s, Wadhams opened Studio B in Boston and cofounded the Orson Welles Film School in Cambridge. An audiophile, he created the Boston Skyline Records label, which released jazz and classical recordings.

MP&E Education with Vision

In 1982 at the request of President Lee Eliot Berk, Wadhams began developing Berklee's MP&E program with Don Puluse, a CBS engineer who became the department's first chair. When classes began in January of 1983, the program was the first college-level music production major to be instituted anywhere.

"Wayne was a multidimensional artist, entrepreneur, and thinker," says Rob Jaczko, Berklee's current MP&E Department chair. He read extensively; was excited about art, writing, and dance; collected Oriental rugs; and studied photography.

"Wadhams was very opposed to mediocrity," Jaczko says. "He expected you to do your best work all the time." And "students really responded to that."

"He was a person full of life with an unbelievable sense of humor and a keen intelligence for both audio and teaching," says Alvaro BalañÁ '99, who worked as a tech in Berklee's recording studios. "His idea of combining engineering and production classes in the MP&E curriculum gave most of us a broad understanding of the world of recorded music and provided the tools for successfully developing our individual careers." BalañÁ is now the chief mastering engineer at Impact Mastering Labs in Barcelona, Spain.

Beatty recalls a humorous teaching moment when Wadhams generously allowed a student to reschedule an exam he'd missed. The student didn't show up, then asked for a second rescheduling. Wadhams agreed. When the student opened the exam envelope, he found a Dunkin' Donuts job application.

Beatty characterizes Wadhams's approach to producing as "inventive." "He was always open to new musical ideas," says Beatty, who taught alongside Wadhams. Beatty recalls when Wadhams asked a singer to record an additional take and whisper throughout.

As an educator, Wadhams also understood that engineering chops meant little unless they enhanced the music. Jaczko remembers being enrolled in Berklee's early audio engineering classes during the seventies, when the emphasis was entirely on mixing consoles, sliders, and levels. "We were taught about engineering topics completely divorced from why these tools are used in a musical setting."

Wadhams thought differently. "Wayne saw the other side of the coin before anyone else did," Jaczko says. "Engineering is in service of an artistic goal of the production." That vision shaped MP&E at Berklee and beyond. "He created the model and the curriculum," Beatty says. The approach has since been duplicated elsewhere.

 
  Professor Wayne Wadhams

Producers in Residence

Teaching music production is subtle and involves nurturing an artistic vision, shepherding people to a common goal, exercising creative judgment, auditioning players, being a psychologist, and keeping track of time.

Berklee's MP&E majors work hard in the studio. You can't learn without doing, but observational learning is crucial as well. There's nothing like watching a pro shape a session or hearing a producer such as Don Was discuss how he produced famous songs.

Despite the reputation of the college's MP&E program, bringing in top producers was neither easy nor cheap. In fact, the Music Technology Division gets visiting-artist funds only every four years. Don Was, the most recent guest, worked with students for several days in the fall of 2008 and followed up with a second visit and concert the following year.

Based on that experience, Jaczko has imagined a residency model where a producer visits both early and late in a semester. It would be a richer experience for the students than the typical short-term artist visit. In addition to classroom visits and clinics, the guest would hold regular office hours so students could consult on tracks in progress. "If the visitor critiques student projects in the third week and then sees the maturation of the student's project in week 13, that would be a really valuable experience," Jaczko says. The department envisions inviting a mix of past and current legendary producers.

And of course, "the people that would be the best examples for our students are the working professionals that have competition for their time," Jaczko says. "Our department is widely recognized in the world . . . so that currency is well in play out there, but securing a luminary's time simply requires funding." The Wadhams bequest relieves that demand on the college's operating budget. "That's a true gift," Jaczko says.

Beatty sees a broader significance as well. "I think it's huge that a Berklee faculty member left this very important and large gift to the college," he says. "I don't know that it's ever happened before. It's an indication that faculty [members] support the college . . . and it's huge in terms of carrying Wayne's legacy forward."